The National Math and Science Partnerships Act

These are notes from March, 2002, on the National Math and Science Partnerships (MSP) Act, HR-1858. The Math and Science Partnerships Act had been introduced by Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), House Science Committee Chair, on May 16, 2001. My notes were written for colleagues and interested parties in government as the MSP legislation was working its way through the United States Congress.

The Mathematics and Science Partnerships are a component of President's Bush's Leave No Child Behind plan announced in his first State of the Union address. The MSP program is to be managed by the NSF (EHR Division) and has the aim to strengthen the role of departments of mathematics, science, and engineering in the training of math and science teachers. The MSP legislation is separate from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which covers programs in the Department of Education.

Last time I checked (Aug 2002), the Math and Science Partnerships Act had not been passed yet. The NSF/EHR went ahead with a first round of MSP program solicitations in the Spring of 2002, but the second round (proposals due in Oct 2002) has been delayed.

Please see my Web page Links, Articles, Essays, and Opinions on K-12 Education for related matter.

From braams Wed Mar 6 10:41:50 2002

I have several concerns.

I repeat also some email of mine of an earlier date.

The largest component of the Bill and the thing that gives it its name are partnerships between institutions of higher learning (or eligible non-profits) and local educational agencies.

Here is what the President had to say about this early in 2001 in the "No Child Left Behind" plan.

Improving Math and Science Instruction

(Part B: Math and Science Partnerships)

Summary of Proposals

Establishes Math and Science Partnerships. States and local districts would be eligible to receive new federal funds to help fund partnerships with the math and science departments of institutions of higher education. Partnerships would focus on strengthening the quality of math and science instruction in elementary and secondary schools and could include such activities as making math and science curricula more rigorous, improving math and science professional development, attracting math and science majors to teaching, and aligning high school math and science standards to foster college placement.

Involves Major Research Institutions. Research universities will be encouraged to participate fully in these state partnerships in order to strengthen K-12 math and science education.

Observe that in the President's plan the partnerships were, on the university side, unambiguously focussed on departments of mathematics, science and engineering - and it a good thing it was too!

Here is the language in the present HR 1858 (Subtitle I-A, Sec. 101).

a) IN GENERAL- (1) The Director shall establish a program to award grants to institutions of higher education or eligible nonprofit organizations (or consortia thereof) to establish mathematics and science education partnership programs to improve the instruction of elementary and secondary science education.

(2) Grants shall be awarded under this section on a merit-reviewed competitive basis.

(b) PARTNERSHIPS- (1) In order to be eligible to receive a grant under this section, an institution of higher education or eligible nonprofit organization (or consortium thereof) shall enter into a partnership with one or more local educational agencies that may also include a State educational agency or one or more businesses, or both.

(2) A participating institution of higher education shall include mathematics, science, or engineering departments in the programs carried out through a partnership under this subsection.

The mathematics, science and engineering departments are still mentioned, but in a much reduced role. It is to be feared that this version of the Partnership Act will fund Business As Usual for the NSF.

The remainder of Sec. 101 lists fourteen activities that may be funded under Title I one of this bill. It is a hodge-podge of activities, of the "think globally, act locally" kind - local teacher training programs, local recruiting activities, local math and science courses for education majors, and other such limited-impact activities of which one wonders why they should be funded by any Federal Agency, let alone the NSF.

To be sure, a few of the items offer a chance at a wider impact: there is development of assessment tools and development of curricular materials, the latter "incorporat[ing] contemporary research on the science of learning". I'm not expecting anything from that either.

The last item is:

(14) any other activities the Director determines will accomplish the goals of this section.

However, I cannot find a statement of the goals of this section.

The activities under Subtitle I-A of the Bill are to be funded at $200M per year for five years.

Subtitle I-B is a Teacher Research Scholarship Program. $15M per year. Looks reasonable to me.

Title II funds a National Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology Education Digital Library. This will contain an Internet-based repository of curricular materials, practices, and teaching modules. It is to be funded at $20M per year. Looks like a waste to me. Publishers of school curricula already have their own extensive web sites, for good commercial reasons. I doubt that the NSF is going to fund a program that will do a better job at this. And if the NSF wants its own grantees to use the web in order to publish curricula developed with NSF support but not yet commercialized, then the NSF can require that in the relevant solicitations for proposals. I don't expect much pay-off from this centralized activity.

Title III funds a Strategic Education Research Program, at $12M per year for Centers and $5M per year for fellows.

The Centers seem to be loaded with extraneous requirements: promote active collaboration among physical, biological, and social science researchers, promote active participation by elementary and secondary mathematics and science teachers and administrators; foster new multidisciplinary collaborations; attract precollege educators from a diverse array of schools and professional experiences.

Title IV is a "Robert Noyce Scholarship Program", to recruit and train mathematics and science teachers. It is funded at $20M per year. It looks reasonable to me.

Title V imposes additional requirements on the research centers of Title III. I don't understand the logical organization here. The additional requirements are, in toto:

The Director shall ensure that any National Science Foundation program that awards grants for the establishment of research centers at institutions of higher education after the date of the enactment of this Act:

(1) requires that every center offer programs for elementary and secondary mathematics and science teachers and students to increase their understanding of the field in which the center specializes; and

(2) uses the quality of a center's proposed precollege education programs as a criterion in determining grant awards.

These requirements look totally extraneous to me.

Title VI concerns educational technologies: $27M per year for research centers and $5M per year for educational technology assistance. I think the authors of the Act have all too much hope for technology in the classroom, but I don't find the time to review this Section in any detail.

Title VII is another $10M per year for miscellaneous activities, and I don't find the time to comment on it.

Bas Braams
Bastiaan J. Braams -
Courant Institute, New York University
251 Mercer Street, New York, NY 10012-1185